Kate’s Guide To Celebrating Christmas And Religious Festivals
Religious belief has been a protected characteristic in the workplace for a very long time. However, many businesses are still struggling to fully understand how to recognise this when it comes to celebrating Christmas and religious festivals.
As Christmas is fast approaching, I felt it an opportune moment to explore how you can accommodate festivities within your business so everyone can get on with celebrating Christmas and religious festivals to the max!
Time Off For Celebrating Christmas And Religious Festivals
From enjoying the lights of Diwali, daylight fasting for Ramadan, observing Yom Kippur to celebrating Christmas and religious festivals, the Equality Act is the relevant legislation protecting individuals from direct or indirect discrimination. However, it doesn’t stipulate what employers must or must not do when it comes to things like agreeing time off for religious festivals.
So when it comes to celebrating Christmas and religious festivals, you need to ensure that you consider all requests for time off reasonably across all staff and that you take a sympathetic approach to requests which are reasonable and practical to accommodate.
If you were to apply a blanket ban approach to leave requests when people are celebrating Christmas and religious festivals, you could leave yourself vulnerable to claims of indirect discrimination. This would mean that you would be required to justify your decision. Justification would take the form of being able to prove that allowing leave over a certain religious event, would render the business unable to operate correctly because you would not have sufficient staff available to allow the company to function.
If you operate a shut-down at certain times of the year, Christmas for example, then employees who do not celebrate Christmas, would have more of an argument for taking leave for one of their own religious festivals. This is on the basis that the business already observes certain events in the workforce majority’s religious calendar.
Celebrating Key Festivals
Sticking with Christmas as the topical example, you should apply the same principles when considering how to celebrate any religious festival within your own business.
One of the most significant barriers to achieving a harmonious balance of respect and understanding in culturally diverse workforces is the ability to consider and accommodate all. There can be no argument that this might be tricky to achieve; however, don’t underestimate the willingness to try.
Choosing When To Celebrate
In just the same way you would probably think twice about booking a staff party on a Sunday as it is the Christian day of rest, so too should you consider the implications for your workforce who observe a different day of rest.
Let’s be clear though; nobody will tell you that you CAN’T hold a staff party or team celebration on any day you wish. I am merely recommending that you give due consideration to the implications for ALL of your staff when you set the date.
A Celebratory Feast
While talking about ‘traditional’ office celebrations, it’s a good time to mention refreshments. Be sure to ask those who will be attending about restrictions like vegetarianism, veganism, the requirement for halal products, no pork, alternatives to alcohol, and so on. I won’t even mention any food allergies your staff may have!
In reality, when you look at those questions, they are probably things that any good host would want to understand about their guests. So it shouldn’t be too demanding for you to understand these needs of your workforce.
Once you know these restrictions, be sensitive – and sensible – about how you meet them. Ensure foods are clearly labelled, don’t mix different foods together, and don’t assume that seemingly innocuous foods like cheese, crisps and cakes will automatically be vegetarian.
If you don’t already understand the cultural mix of your employees, take the time to do so before you cause bad feeling by making assumptions! You will usually find most people are happy to help others understand more about their religion. Especially when that desire clearly comes from the wish to meet different needs.
Alternative Ways Of Celebrating Christmas And Religious Festivals
If you have a diverse workforce, why not use that as a reason to branch out and do something different. There are ever-increasing reasons why a ‘traditional’ staff booze-up is becoming less prevalent than it once was. All of which are of equal value and importance.
By taking a different approach to celebrating Christmas and religious festivals, you may find that staff engagement increases and, in turn, the ongoing positive impact on staff morale pays dividends you would never achieve when bonding over warm wine at an office shindig at the local pub.
Options for teambuilding days grow year on year.
What about taking the team outdoors to try a new activity – abseiling, white water rafting, paintballing or similar?
Or maybe your team would prefer something a little less gung-ho, a cookery course or visiting one of the growing numbers of ‘escape room’ activities?
Of course, you may find that people aren’t overly keen to give up time of their own to spend with colleagues. And not too many businesses can afford the luxury of giving their staff a whole or half day off.
If this is the case, then you might find yourself sticking with the traditional ways of celebrating Christmas and religious festivals, like parties. However, providing you revisit the earlier suggestions about food and drink, give consideration to the day and location of the party and ASK your staff for their input, chances are everyone will have a great time and will come together in the intended spirit of the season.
Deck The Halls
Before I sign off for today, it occurred to me that you might also find one last tip about decorations useful. An important message to send to your staff is that, while there may be one or two festivals that are observed by the majority, you are mindful of the minority too. So, if you are happy to put up Christmas decorations, you would be well advised to consider how to accommodate similar traditions for other festivals.
A Final Point To Note
When it comes to celebrating Christmas and religious festivals, consulting with your team and avoiding assumptions is vital. Not just in how you handle religious celebrations but also in how you ensure diversity and equality across all business activities. However, religious festivals often carry significant personal importance to people. By upping the ante, you will learn more about your people and help them learn more about each other. That’s what some might call a win: win scenario.
For more information about this, and the full range of HR Support available, please contact Kate Underwood HR & Training on 02382 025160 or email [email protected]
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